Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Dungeons and Dragons lawsuit to go ahead

If you remember the Hasbro locks arms as Warner Bros. jump the gun over Dungeons and Dragons movie rights article I wrote back in May this year.

It would appear that a Judge has denied a producer's attempt for a quick settlement against Hasbro in a dispute over the rights to the D&D property. The Dungeons and Dragons lawsuit to go ahead.

Toy-maker Hasbro and movie producer Courtney Solomon's Sweetpea Entertainment. Hasbro has been reportedly working with Universal Studios on a remake while Sweetpea Entertainment is said to be partnering with Warner Bros.

Back in May, Hasbro filed a lawsuit against Sweetpea Entertainment over rights to the property. Courtney Solomon's company hit back with a summary judgment motion, but a California federal judge declared the latter move to be "premature," setting the lights, cameras and action for months,  maybe even years of litigation.

The source of what makes the dispute complicated is confusion over what constitutes a "sequel" and the nature of the parties' contract.

Doing a bit of research I found that back in 1994, Sweetpea Entertainment actually acquired rights to make a film based on Dungeons & Dragons, and in 2000, Courtney Solomon produced a theatrical film. According to the contract, Sweetpea Entertainment had the rights to make one or more sequels, but those rights would revert five years after the initial U.S. release.

Sweetpea Entertainment didn't make another theatrical film, but the company did produce two TV films including Wrath of the Dragon God for the SyFi Channel in 2005 and The Book of Vile Darkness last year. Did those productions count?

Hasbro has chimed in arguing that the contract has separate reversion clauses for film and television, and that as a result, a TV movie doesn't count as a sequel for purposes of extending Sweetpea Entertainment clock to make another film. The defendant said this interpretation was "facially absurd."

If that is indeed the case, then Hasbro would have this all sealed right?

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled last Friday giving points to both side. She says that it is "not necessarily absurd" to have a contract set up this way. On the other hand, the judge adds that it is "plausible" that a television sequel could toll the reversion clauses for both sequels and television programs.

"The contract is simply not clear on its face whether the two television movies should count solely as 'television programs' or should be considered 'sequels' or both," writes the judge. "Because the Court finds that the relevant contract language is ambiguous, Plaintiffs are entitled to discovery on the contract formation and to present such extrinsic evidence as may be relevant to the parties’ intent."

Sweetpea Entertainment also looked to score a quick win in this lawsuit by arguing that Hasbro hadn't provided written notice of its intent to terminate the license, nor an opportunity to cure, as contractually obligated. Hasbro legal eagles countered that such notice wasn't needed because motion picture rights automatically reverted. "At the very least, this interpretation is plausible," Said judge Gee.

Interestingly, Judge Gee also rejects Sweetpea Entertainments argument that Hasbro can't demonstrate copyright or trademark infringement without the ability of comparing specific elements of a produced work to Hasbro's property. Even though the companies works are in the formative stages, the judge says Hasbro is "entitled to try to meet their burden of proof with the aid of discovery."

What does that mean? Well as a result of Judge Gee, Hasbro now gets to learn more about Sweetpea's Entertainments film. As a fan this is getting a bit too messy, I would just love to see a well produced and directed fantasy box office smash.

Is it really all fair in love and movie?

1 comment:

  1. In all honesty I think Universal and Hasbro can do a better production, but I loved the production Sweetpea did of D&D for the first movie, the second was pretty good and I have yet to see the third to see if they made it any better then the second...